Philly’s Azuka Theatre gets a rural, radical queer joy twist with ‘Carroll County Fix’

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Pictured are Anna Faye Lieberman (Rach), Paige Whitman (Crash) and Lorenza Bernasconi (Tess) in Azuka Theatre’s production of ‘Carroll County Fix’.
Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

Forever known for its vibrant diversity among artists and audiences, as well as its feel for telling tales of the underdog and the unheard, Azuka Theatre’s second show of its 2021/2022 season is at-one with its origin story’s vision—the meta dramedy ‘Carroll County Fix’.

Running until March 20 at The Drake, Philadelphia’s Val Dunn – self-described as a “writer/deviser who creates plays, zines, and radical queer joy” whose work possesses “a strong sense of place and tackles issues of class and dykehood while pushing against the limitations of form” – has created a witty theater piece about a documentary filmmaker looking to say goodbye to her rural home for good, both in spirit and in body.

Without relying on small-town tropes while pinning down the vibes of change and growth – the comfortable and not-so comfortable – currently throttling rural communities, Dunn again uses her own quixotic voice to twist a simple, homespun tale into something fresh and extravagant.

Playwright Dunn and Azuka Theatre’s co-artistic director Reva Stover discuss the roots of Azuka’s outreach and how that relationship blossomed for ‘Carroll County Fix’.

Anna Faye Lieberman (Rach) and Steven Anthony Wright (Paul) in ‘Carroll County Fix’. Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

“’Carroll County’ does an amazing job of portraying the lives, realities and hardships of being everyday people,” says Stover in relation to Azuka’s mission of telling diverse stories in diverse ways. “Sometimes, we’re the underdog, struggling. We need support and validation. ‘Carroll County’ digs into these intimate relationships and how we struggle through them, as well as existing as a queer person in a world not built for you, built for the other.”

To this, Dunn — who has written a handful of rural life-inspired plays such as ‘O, Possum!’ and ‘Down in the Holler’— points toward the lead character of ‘Carroll County Fix’, Tess (played by Lorenza Bernasconi), an aspiring artist lacking for the necessary funds but desirous of getting out of her small town, literally and figuratively. (Also starring in ‘Carroll County Fix’ is last week’s Boldface Masked Philly subject, Anna Faye Lieberman.

“Tess doesn’t have access to much culture outside of her hometown, let alone educational and institutional support, so we see her fight every step of the way for her passion. Often, she’s thwarted, but by play’s end she triumphs – even in small ways.”

As for Dunn’s predilection for small town tales, the author states that hers is a voice (or an ear) for place, about class, and about queerness. “And, of course, the intersection of those three things,” she says.

Anna Faye Lieberman (Rach), Adam Howard (Stinky Pete) and Lorenza Bernasconi (Tess) are shown in ‘Carroll County Fix’. Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org

“’Carroll County Fix’ is living proof of what Val says,” states Stover, who has, as of March, been in her position at Azuka for six months. “As a playwright, she’s melding all of those worlds and ideas together in one piece. All of her plays do a great job of doing that.”

Dunn started writing ‘Carroll County’ at the top of the pandemic in consideration of her own rural hometown and the topic of the spaces in which we inhabit. “The media always has such sweeping assumptions about small towns,” says Dunn.

“Val’s play also talks about issues of gentrification, and towns changing their identities once overrun by outsiders, which speaks to the current moment of what we’re going through in Philadelphia,” claims Stover. “The encroaching newness of the world and technology that often upends our lives is part of ‘Carroll County’.”

Developing plays such as ‘Carroll County Fix’, as Dunn and Stover have done through Azuka’s New Pages playwright program made it so that author and theater space were in on each other’s actions from its start.

“We meet twice a month, one playwright brings new pages, and it is a space of accountability – you have to bring new pages whether you’re ready or not,” says Dunn with a laugh. “It’s hard being an artist, so it’s great having that communal space where you’re required to do the work, and have the support and tools to do that.”

For information and tickets, visit azukatheatre.org/carroll-county-fix.

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